For more than one hundred years, the United States has submitted the people of Puerto Rico to colonial rule through the power of the U.S. Congress over the territories. Many Puerto Ricans are dissatisfied with U.S. territorial policy, and people in the United States are finally starting to learn about this policy, largely due to Puerto Rico’s $72 billion public debt that threatens the U.S. bond market. This Article presents a historical overview of U.S. territorial expansion, examining the policy transformations and constitutional relations that have developed between the United States and its territories.

The Author begins by presenting a historical overview of U.S. territorial expansion in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and examines how its territorial policy shifted at the turn of the twentieth century, shortly after the United States annexed territories in the SpanishAmerican War. The Author then argues that the United States’ constitutional relation with Puerto Rico deprives the country of sovereignty, contradicts the values on which the United States was established, and violates international norms that recognize the collective human right of self-determination. Ultimately, the Author concludes that the time has come to abandon the current territorial regime, which harms the territories—including Puerto Rico—and demeans the United States. The Author suggests that better options include admitting the territories as new states, establishing a treaty of free association, or recognizing the full independence of Puerto Rico.